Valve’s initiative to have games on Steam available and supported across multiple operating systems has been quite successful. There’s a ton of games available for Windows, Linux, and macOS, and some of those games are also cross-licensed. In the beginning, that’s what Steam Play came to represent – the ability to buy a game that’d support multiple platforms and run on whatever you preferred to use at the time.
According to Reddit sleuths who’ve uncovered some new developments, however, it looks like Valve may have much bigger plans for the platform.
Hidden inside documentation on Valve’s GitHub tree for the Steam client, Reddit users uncovered a new addition to the manifests file, which includes new text about Steam Play and how Valve intends to use it to support running Windows games on other platforms without express support. The file includes a list of menu options alongside their descriptions, and some are very telling. There’s mention of a “compatibility tool” several times, and it’s worth noting that the changes appear in the main Steam depot and not specifically for Linux or macOS.
“Steam Play Settings”
“Steam Play will automatically install compatibility tools that allow you to play games from your library that were built for other operating systems.”
“Enable Steam Play for supported titles”
“You can use Steam Play to test games in your library that have not been verified with a supported compatibility tool.”
“Enable Steam Play for all titles”
“You may select a compatibility tool to use with games that have not been tested or verified to work on this platform. This may not work as expected, and can cause issues with your games, including crashes and breaking save games.”
Steam Play was announced in 2010 alongside the release of Steam for macOS, and allowed for the cross-licensing agreements to take form. This meant that if you were a Windows gamer moving to macOS or vice versa, there was almost no penalty for moving. This expanded to include Linux in 2012, but it’s been a bit of a problem for Valve over the years. While they could guarantee Steam Play support for a large portion of their library, this came to be confused with automatic Linux support as well, and multiple times a game has launched with Linux support only to have that support pulled months later. If this new data proves true, that might all change.
There aren’t many ways to get older games on Steam working on newer operating systems, or even a completely different platform. Some games do run, but might need tweaks to run at the correct performance level, and some may even need to be run in a special wrapper to enable hardware acceleration. That’s the case on Linux and macOS for a lot of games these days, where WINE is used to run these games.
I’ve spoken about how I recently decided to finally stop using Windows and switch to Linux for good, and I briefly mentioned the DXVK project. DXVK (DirectX to Vulkan) is a wrapper for DirectX 10 and 11 games that translates Windows commands into something that Linux can understand, via the Vulkan Graphics API. This enables games like The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and even Far Cry 5 to run on Linux with little more than a 20% drop in performance compared to the native implementation.
Perhaps 2018 is the Year of the Linux Desktop after all? Nah, I’m just kidding.